Military Rule Continues in Egypt
Current events have underscored who holds political power in Egypt in the post-Mubarak era.
Events of the last week or so, unfortunately, underscores an important fact for understanding post-Mubarak Egypt: The Military Still Runs Egypt (as I noted back in June) and that to understanding Mubarak’s ouster, we should Call it What it is: A Military Coup in Egypt (a stance for which I took some flak at the time here from some commenters).
While USAT’s headline on the current news from Egypt has optimistic tone (Egypt’s new prime minister claims more powers) the first portion of the first clause of the first sentence of the piece underscores my position:
Egypt’s military rulers picked a prime minister from ousted leader Hosni Mubarak’s era to head the next government in a move quickly rejected by tens of thousands of protesters, while the United States ratcheted up pressure on the generals to quickly transfer power to a civilian leadership.
Indeed, the NYT put it more starkly: “Late Thursday, the generals announced over the state news media that they planned to name a 77-year-old former Mubarak lieutenant, Kamel el-Ganzoury, as the new prime minister…”
The military remains unambiguously in charge at the moment, despite statements like the following:
Kamal el-Ganzouri, 78, served as prime minister between 1996 and 1999 and was deputy prime minister and planning minister before that. He also was a provincial governor under the late President Anwar Sadat.
In a televised statement, he said the military has given him greater powers than his predecessor and he wouldn’t have accepted the job if he believed military ruler Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi had any intention of staying in power.
It is quite possible that he does have more powers than his predecessor, but in terms of understanding the unfolding events we cannot ignore the fact that a) he was granted power not by democratic mechanisms, but by authoritarian ones, b) his whole political career has been within the context of a military regime, and c) Tantawi does not have to remain in charge of the current junta for the military itself to remain the real power in Egypt.
Also, it should be noted that US calls for the military to step down (via the NYT: White House Urges Egypt’s Military to Yield Power) are not going to be as efficacious as the calls to oust Mubarak. Getting rid of Mubarak was an act that took out one man (who was nearing the end of his career anyway), whilst removing the military as a central power actor in the Egyptians government would be an act of profound institutional reform and deep regime change.
I am not saying that such change is impossible, but am rather noting what the reality of the situation is. For true change in a democratic direction to come to Egypt, the hard part remains to be done. There will have to be real elections of persons to occupy a real parliament which, in turn, will legitimately empower serious constitutional changes. From those changes will have to come a true and thorough civilian (and, indeed, elected civilian) control of the military. At the end of the day real regime change, let alone revolution, is hard (and it has not yet come to Egypt).
I am hopeful that the protests in Egypt will, in fact, lead to liberalization of the political order there. I simply am trying to note what reality is at the moment and to underscore once again what democratization, specifically, is a difficult process. At the moment Egypt is clearly post-Mubarak, but it is by no means post-military nor is it post-authoritarian.